WHO DO YOU TRUST?

WHO DO YOU TRUST?

Years ago, preachers learned to do their work with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. If we are not connecting the sacred text to what is happening in the world, we aren’t doing our jobs. Now the internet, smartphones, and tablets substitute for physical newspapers, but the task is still the same. We need a steady stream of reliable reporting, relevant stories, and biblical worldview analysis of events to speak with any relevance.

But, as John Stonestreet recently wrote, “Information comes at us in waves, with conjecture in the place of facts and assertions in the place of arguments.” Who can we trust?

Last week’s blog, READING THE TIMES, explains how to sort the wheat from the chaff in our media. Today, I thought it would be helpful to recommend a few of the sources I count on each week to inform my sermons and this blog.

THE WORLD AND EVERYTHING IN IT is the daily news podcast from World News Group whose mission is biblically objective reporting. Often referred to as NPR from a Christian Worldview: Each weekday morning, enjoy daily radio news, interviews, commentary, and original features reported from the field. Today’s Washington Wednesday interview, Beijing Unmasked, with foreign policy analyst Will Inboden is a great example. Nine minutes with no commercial interruptions. You won’t get that in-depth on any evening news broadcast. Inboden served in the State Department and the National Security Council under former President George W. Bush. He’s now executive director of the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin.

I’m a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and have confidence in the integrity of their reporting. Find their main website at https://world.wng.org/ .

Breakpoint, the five-minute daily podcast from John Stonestreet and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, is not a news service because it does not provide original reporting. But it does offer daily biblical worldview analysis on all kinds of things in our world. Producing the consistent quality of analysis and biblical commentary they provide is not easy, but they do it daily. Their April 17 article, The Viral Pandemic of Distrust and Misinformation, is a great example. I highly recommend it.

Christianity Today, the magazine and media organization founded by Billy Graham, is also a reliable resource for reporting on things of concern to believers around the world. It sometimes lacks the stringent objectivity that Editor In Chief Marvin Olasky imposes on World. Still, they have a broader scope than World publish authors from a larger cross-section of the Church than World.

Other news and analysis sources I follow online include NPR, National Review, Foxnews.com, The Wall Street Journal, CBSNews.com, WDBJ7.com, and news.google.com, which aggregates news from several sources. These require much more scrutiny for fact-checking and editorial point of view but can be useful in gathering multiple perspectives.

“He who answers before listening, that is his folly and shame…The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.” Proverbs 18:13 & 15.

READING THE TIMES: Separating Fact from Ideological Cheerleading

READING THE TIMES: Separating Fact from Ideological Cheerleading

If you enjoy Fixer-Upper as we do, you know that there is a formula for the popular TV show. A family-friendly couple is looking for an all-American home in Waco, Texas. They view three houses Chip & Jo have selected for them. Joanna wants to open the floor plan and remodel the kitchen, add crown molding, and of course, shiplap. Chip cuts up for Joanna’s entertainment. Demo Day! Half-way there and, oh no, there’s a problem! Last day and Joanna has to work late. Chip drops by with the kids. The big reveal!

It is enjoyable if you like that sort of thing, but it is not real. It’s scripted. It follows a specific narrative arc or storyline every time. Viewers know what is going to happen; we just enjoy watching it unfold. Entertainment is the mission.

Entertainment is not, or should not be, the mission of a news organization. Still less propaganda: information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.[1] Reliable reporting follows the facts wherever they lead. Propaganda follows a predetermined narrative.

Discerning the difference between infotainment (entertainment masquerading as news), propaganda, and reliable reporting is a critical skill for every citizen, but especially Christians. God is the God of truth. His children are responsible for discerning it as well as spreading it, for making decisions based on it in the marketplace, on social media, and especially in the voting booth.

Here’s a brief how-to.

Watch for predictable storylines. All reporters begin with a theme, a unifying idea that guides their questions and structures their stories. But when facts fail to support it, the theme must change. Truth-telling reporters will do that. But dishonest reporters force the facts to fit the theme, magnifying those that do and minimizing or else ignoring those that do not.

Example: When every weather story somehow supports man-made Climate Change theory, you may be seeing propaganda. When every review of a press conference makes your favorite politician out to be a genius, you may be hearing propaganda. When every story you see about unwanted pregnancy centers on women’s health, ignoring the rights of the child, you are watching a narrative as predictable as Fixer Upper, but with reliably deadly consequences.

Watch for generalities, the glossing over of inconvenient facts. Reliable reporting uses concrete detail, specific examples, and defining quotations from qualified experts willing to go on the record. When you read, “some experts say,” or “studies show,” you are reading generalities. If the topic interests you, dig deeper before you share it online.

Watch for something for sale. Most magazine reporting, especially in special interest mags and online sites, is just long-form advertising. Much Christian magazine reporting does the same thing, except that instead of selling a product, it is selling a ministry. Ministry Watch Magazine and World Magazine are exceptions. Search their archives on a ministry before you buy-in.

Watch for alternate worldviews. Journalists striving for objectivity should cite several different sources to support a theme. But if those experts share the same worldview, they are only “balancing subjectivities.”[2] Reliable reporting seeks out several perspectives.

Watch for commentary masquerading as journalism. Conservative commentator Cal Thomas got it right in his January 24, 2019 analysis of media coverage of women newly elected to Congress:

“Especially in the Trump era, media have displayed increasingly naked ideological cheerleading. Any fair examination of major newspapers—from the front page, to the editorial and op-ed pages—proves the point.

If there’s any hope of getting out of the political mess we’re in, journalism must return to a focus on facts, not fanfare.”

And Christians must learn how to discern the difference.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Dictionary.com

[2] Marvin Olasky’s term.

 

 

IS YOUR SON THE NEXT SCHOOL SHOOTER? How to Prevent Your Worst Nightmare

IS YOUR SON THE NEXT SCHOOL SHOOTER? How to Prevent Your Worst Nightmare

The school shootings just keep coming, as we should have guessed by now they would. Without the intervention of teacher Jason Seaman, Noblesville, Indiana would no doubt have been the third mass shooting in a school in 2018, preceded by Santa Fe, Texas, that took ten lives, and Parkland, Florida that took seventeen and wounded seventeen more. May Seaman’s tribe increase.

Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote on school shootings in the New Yorker in 2015, believes we should expect more. His article developed a theory based on a study of riots by sociologist Mark Granovetter. Each new shooting lowers the threshold for participation. The Columbine shooters broke the storefront window. Others less brash but emboldened are now rushing in and looting the place.

“In the day of Eric Harris, we could try to console ourselves with the thought that there was nothing we could do, that no law or intervention or restrictions on guns could make a difference in the face of someone so evil. But the riot has now engulfed the boys who were once content to play with chemistry sets in the basement.”[1]

Time will tell, but if the 2018 trend indicates anything it is that Gladwell is probably right. As each new incident splashes across the media, more low threshold shooters will take up arms.

Arguments for gun-control will continue to gain steam, communities will seek to harden their schools, and law enforcement improve response times, but those things only address the symptoms of this growing social pathology.[2] We need to get to the roots. All school mass murderers have been boys or young men. The question is: What can we as parents and grandparents do to prevent the development of future predators?

Several common denominators emerge from analysis of these boy-shooters, labeled thus because even if they are in college, they have missed essential developmental steps to manhood. Besides access to guns, which Americans have always had, they are: The desire for revenge; the desire for fame; the need to feel powerful; the copycat phenomenon; narcissistic individualism; mental illness. Those personality disorders are on the rise.

How can parents, grandparents and community leaders interrupt the downward spiral of narcissistic revenge in a boy’s life that leads to mass murder? Obviously, we want to introduce our sons to Jesus Christ, to teach and model for them what it means to follow the Prince of Peace. Beyond that I offer the following suggestions.

First, parents need to be parents again, not friends. You can be friends later, great friends, once your son has achieved manhood, but not before. Until that day he needs leadership willing to exercise controlling authority in his life that will set standards and expectations for behavior with fairness and consistency. From the time the terrible twos strike until he walks across the stage to accept a diploma he needs boundaries and expectations enforced with positive affirmation and memorable discipline.

The reason for that is straightforward. Freud taught that everything wrong with us is our parent’s fault, that if we can only sort out how they wronged us we’ll be alright. The humanists followed with the theory that children are born basically good, innocent blank slates who only need to be shown the good to want it. If the child does wrong there are always reasons, excuses, mitigating factors. It’s not his fault. The psychological health of American boys has been in precipitous decline ever since those theories caught on in the 1960s.[3]

A more reliable and ancient record of human psychology—the Bible—teaches that all children are born with free will and a narcissistic proclivity to choose self over others.

Child and Family Psychologist John Rosemond reported on the connection between that proclivity and violence in his PARENTING BY THE BOOK. The best social science reveals “the characteristics that typify people who possess an abundance of self-esteem:

  • An overriding sense of entitlement (“What I want I deserve to have”)
  • Low self-control, especially when frustrated
  • Apt to explode toward others when they don’t get their way
  • A criminal/sociopath mind-set, distinguished by the belief that the end justify the means”[4]

Training this out of a boy requires teaching him that bad behavior is his fault and he will be held accountable for it. His morals need forming and his instincts need restraining until he is civilized.

Second, if your son doesn’t have a father in the home make sure he has several in the community. Coaches, scout leaders, church men, teachers, ROTC leaders and male mentors of all kinds. Boys need men to show them what servant-leadership looks like, how a real man handles setbacks and disappointments. If you aren’t part of a church with strong male role-models in it find one and pray for God to lead you and your son(s) to the right kind of mentor. Keep him involved in healthy community, whether he wants to or not.

Third, keep him involved in healthy activities that channel his aggressive energies and provide camaraderie. Loneliness in the social media age is becoming pandemic. Screen time is not the same as face time with flesh and blood friends.[5]  Boys, even those who aren’t naturally athletic, have more built-in aggression and competitiveness than girls. If baseball isn’t his game perhaps Karate, Jiu-Jitsu, or golf, or tennis, or chess, or any number of other things will hold his attention. He needs to achieve with other boys and be affirmed in his achievement.

Fourth, interrupt immersion in killology, the phrase coined by former military psychologist David Grossman to define the process by which an average young person is groomed by the military to take human life.

Humans, like many other creatures, are not hard-wired to kill other humans, at least not in cold blood. They must be conditioned to do so. The military figured this out during WWII and developed training regimens that included brutalization, classical conditioning, operant conditioning and role modeling to overcome it. Brutalization desensitizes boys to violence. Classical conditioning, associating violence with pleasurable things like soft-drinks, sex, and laughter, makes them enjoy it. Operant conditioning trains them to do it without thinking. And role modeling shows them it’s socially OK. Much of the entertainment targeted at young men does the same thing, but without the built-in restraints in the military command structure.

Does that mean that every boy who plays World of Warcraft is a potential school shooter? No, but as Grossman reports, “Today the data linking violence in the media to violence in society are superior to those linking cancer and tobacco.”[6]

If your son or grandson is interested in war-stories, he’s like millions of others who’ve been inspired by military heroes. But if he is immersed in killology he could become quite dangerous without warning. Limit his screen time while giving him other things to pursue.

Fifth, watch closely during those critical years of early adolescence for signs of toxic social situations. Some boys are naturally more resilient, and we don’t want to create more snowflakes. But some situations are more damaging than others. Boys need a few successes under their belts to strengthen their confidence in social situations. If they haven’t had those successes, they need a social environment that won’t poison them with anger and resentment until they can accrue them. Mental illness often begins here.

Sixth, if your boy does need counseling or is diagnosed with a mental or emotional illness, all is not lost. Get the help he needs, but in the meantime, remove all firearms from your home.

School shootings have become a waking nightmare for America and it isn’t only the families of the victims who hurt, but the families of the shooters as well. Do whatever it takes to keep it from being your worst nightmare too.

[1] https://medium.com/@spencerbaum/mob-psychology-the-riot-effect-malcolm-gladwell-and-shirley-jackson-4bf2ec6ef427

[2] (See Gun Control on Daneskelton.com).

[3] John Rosemond, PARENTING BY THE BOOK, p. 36.

[4] Ibid p. 54.

[5] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/05/01/606588504/americans-are-a-lonely-lot-and-young-people-bear-the-heaviest-burden?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social

[6] David Grossman, Ph.D., Director, Killology Research Group, Jonesboro, Arkansas. Adapted from a speech delivered at Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas, April 1996.

 

FAKE NEWS, SPIN, & HONEST JOURNALISM

FAKE NEWS, SPIN, & HONEST JOURNALISM

The Headlines Scream:

“JOY BEHAR FIRED FROM THE VIEW,” but she wasn’t.

“MICHELLE BACHMAN SAYS JESUS CREATED ASSAULT RIFLES,” but she didn’t.

And my all-time favorite: ANGRY COW KNOCKS HELICOPTER FROM SKY: Udder Destruction! Which never happened but is still hilarious.

The BBC defines fake news as:

  • Completely false information, photos or videos purposefully created and spread to confuse or misinform.
  • Information, photos or videos manipulated to deceive – or old photographs shared as new.
  • Satire or parody which means no harm but can fool people.[1]

Fake news used to be limited to the grocery store checkout line, but the web gave it legs and Twitter gave it wings. Now it’s everywhere all the time.

Fake news is easy to spot, spin not so much. Spin isn’t completely false information manipulated to deceive. It is editorial selection of facts based on undeclared presuppositions along with the imposition of a particular point of view designed to bring about specific conclusions by the viewer or reader. The same reader or viewer might arrive at different conclusions were all the facts delivered—or spun—in a different way. In other words, spin is not fair or balanced.

To spot spin we need to know some things about message crafting in general and journalism in particular.

Every reporter, indeed every message maker from the shortest Twitterer to the longest documentary film-maker makes editorial choices. The choices are limited by time and space and are guided by the story’s theme, as chosen by the writer, and the production’s priorities, specified by the editor or producer. That’s where spin begins, and all communication has some.

Every writer has a purpose which guides the selection of material including, for example the Apostle John who, as an evangelist, chose the stories most likely to convince any reader that Jesus is the Christ.

“Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples,” he wrote, “which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” [2]

But John and the rest of the Bible’s writers knew that God would hold them accountable to tell the truth.[3] Many publishers, producers, and editors today forget that, or never believed it in the first place. “Too much of the media acts like a special interest group,” said Michael Goodwin, chief political columnist for the New York Post. “It exists to promote its own interest and the political party with which it is aligned.”

Goodwin began his career as a clerk at the New York Times under legendary editor Abe Rosenthal whose commitment to fairness made the Times the flagship of American journalism. No more, says Goodwin. “Standards are like laws in the sense that they are designed to guide your behavior in good times and in bad. Consistent adherence to them was the source of the Times’ credibility. And eliminating them has made the paper less than ordinary. It’s only standards now are double standards.”[4]

Savvy news consumers winnow the facts from the spin and discern which facts have been deselected. Watch for concrete detail, specific examples, and definitive quotes. Ignore generalities and nonspecific adjectives or adverbs.[5]

True, total objectivity is impossible for fallen creatures. All of us are prejudiced. Ethical journalists reporting from a secular worldview usually attempt fairness by quoting person “A” on the left and person “B” on the right. But “conventional objectivity,” as Marvin Olasky, editor in chief of World News Group writes, “balances subjective views that may be ungodly.”

Biblical worldview journalism takes “the God’s-eye view”.  Its editorial priorities and conclusions are guided by Scripture. Of course, Scripture doesn’t address everything, so Olasky and company devised a six-tiered system—called rapids, after whitewater rafting’s classification system—by which they set their priorities and draw their conclusions. The lower the number the more certainty about God’s take on an issue. The higher the number—the more difficult rapid—the less likely World is to take a hard and fast stand. Either way, World reports all the facts, or at least all that they can access prior to press time, under the standard of biblical objectivity.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” says Olasky, “but the streets declare the sinfulness of man. Biblical journalism emphasizes God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness.”[6]

When it comes to journalism, that’s the real thing.

[1]http://www.bbc.com/news/world-42487425

[2] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Jn 20:30–31). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] See: Acts 24:13; Romans 9:1; 2 Cor. 1:12; 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 John 1:3 etc.

[4] Michael Goodwin, The 2016 Election and the Demise of Journalistic Standards, Imprimis, May / June 2017.

[5] Marvin Olasky, Telling the Truth: How to Revitalize Christian Journalism, p. 33. Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 1996.

[6] World Journalism Institute’s World Policy Book & Writer’s Guide p. 7

THE SEARCH FOR RELIABLE REPORTING

25 years ago, I asked a friend in the Christian radio business if he knew of anything like National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, but from a biblical worldview.

“No,” he said, “But there is this guy named Rush Limbaugh who is singlehandedly rescuing AM radio from oblivion with his talk show. If you can get past his schtick, he has some important things to say.”

I never did get past his schtick. But I have, along with many other conservative Christians, listened to Rush off and on ever since and been alternatively incensed, offended, aggravated, humored, surprised, and informed. Limbaugh, along with his many imitators, has coarsened public discourse and contributed to the polarization of our politics. He has also drawn back the curtains on the cynical manipulation of the public by those in power, particularly the Clintons, and was amazingly prescient about the success of the Trump campaign. While I agree with many of the conservative principles he espouses, Limbaugh’s crudity, bombast, and inflammatory rhetoric — audience building tools all — are at odds with biblical principles of civic conversation.

Then again, so were Martin Luther’s. But that’s a blog for another day.

Then there’s National Public Radio. NPR does many things very well. From Morning Edition to All Things Considered, NPR succeeds with its breadth of topics, in depth reporting, and literate reporting staff. But more than anything else I appreciate its tone. Unlike its commercial, conservative competitors, it isn’t crude, repetitive, personality-driven or sensationalist, but rational, reasonable, and understated.

The problem, and it is a deep one, is NPR’s Darwinian, post-modern, politically correct point of view. As Juan Williams said in 2010, when he was unceremoniously fired from NPR for mentioning his reasonable fear of Muslims on airplanes, “To say the least this is a chilling assault on free speech. The critical importance of honest journalism and a free flowing, respectful national conversation needs to be had in our country. But it is being buried as collateral damage in a war whose battles include political correctness and ideological orthodoxy.” Williams, no knee-jerk conservative himself, was dead right.

Enter WORLD RADIO and its daily podcast, The World and Everything In It, a thirty-minute radio news program that drops every morning at 5:30 AM. The World and Everything In It, along with the weekend program Listening In, takes the best of NPR, its tone, its breadth, and its intelligence, and presents its news and commentary with biblical objectivity. They call it biblical worldview journalism. WORLD is refreshingly honest about this, unlike NPR, which pretends impartiality as it promotes the PC party line. WORLD’S contributors and regular guests include Cal Thomas, Warren Cole Smith, and John Stonestreet.  Weekly features include legal analysis of cases before the Supreme Court every Monday, Whitehouse Wednesday, and Culture Friday, along with interviews with thinkers and policy makers from all walks of life.

WORLD RADIO is also committed to journalistic integrity. They do the hard work of chasing down the facts, verifying them, and reporting them with balance and without gloss. Like the magazine from which it grew, WORLD RADIO doesn’t shy away from difficult stories. It will report corruption and failure within the evangelical church as well as without, yet without the rancor and insensitivity found in some other publications.

WORLD RADIO is part of World News Group, which also produces the monthly WORLD MAGAZINE and GOD’S BIG WORLD for kids. They also sponsor the Hope Awards for effective charity. Like NPR, WORLD is a non-profit, which works in its favor. It does not let advertisers shape its content. Yet unlike NPR, which is partially funded by tax-payer dollars, WORLD depends on listeners and like-minded organizations for support.

If you are ready for some world-class journalism from a biblical point of view, or looking for a great Christmas gift for information-hungry friends and relatives, I urge you to try WORLD RADIO and WORLD MAGAZINE. Get a risk-free, three month trial at www.getworldnow.com, check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WorldandEverything/, and find them on the web at www.world.wng.org.